The History of Medical Tourism
Medical tourism offers reliable and affordable health care to patients around the world. While it may seem like a new concept, medical tourism has been around for centuries and is steeped in tradition. Medical travel has a rich history that dates back to antiquity.
Travelers would travel great distances to seek the help of hot springs, baths, saunas, and faraway health retreats. The ancient Greeks and Egyptians would make their way to the village of Epidauria in Greece. Once there, they would search out a healing sanctuary called Asclepieion which was thought to be the dwelling place of Asklepios, the god of healing and medicine.
Travelers would ask Asklepios for relief from pain and a cure for what ailed them.
During Christian times, Asclepieion became a healing center. Today, it is known as the very first medical tourism destination. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, European and American patients continued to travel to find cures, but it wasn’t until the rise of health costs in the 1980s and 1990s that international medical travel became a need.
Health costs, especially for surgery, were heavily inflated thanks to increasing insurance costs and facility overhead. Patients who were underinsured or without coverage were looking for high-quality treatments at a fraction of the cost. They found the solution to their medical, dental, and surgical needs beyond their borders with global health care.
Through the years, certain countries have claimed medical specialties. In the late 1980s, Cuba became a leader in heart procedures, eye surgeries, and elective cosmetic treatments.
Costa Rica was the place to go for caps and bridges. Thailand’s government focused on medical tourism opportunities to alleviate the country’s currency issues in 1997. It quickly became known as the global health care hot spot for plastic surgery, namely inexpensive sex-change operations for less than $5,000. New Zealand became known for its hip and knee replacements.
Soon, patients were adding stamps to their passports for treatments such as:
- Orthopedic surgery
- Weight loss surgery
- Laser Eye surgery
- Heart surgery
- Cosmetic surgery
- Infertility (IVF)
- Organ transplantation
- Joint replacement surgery
- Hair transplantation
As more and more patients took advantage of medical tourism, they needed assistance with language, medical travel arrangements, communication with their medical team, and post-treatment instructions. The need for medical tourism facilitators became apparent.
Medical tourism companies formed networks of world-class doctors and facilities to offer a host of services. Their goal, then and now, is to make the medical tourism experience pleasant and successful, passing on the savings of 40-80%.
They offer guidance on what can be a confusing and intimidating industry and offer the following services:
- Access to doctors and specialists
- Payment plans
- Medical travel arrangements and hotel recommendations
- Follow-up care
- Patient and doctor coordination
- Second opinions
- Global health care information
- Alternative medicine options
- Bilingual personnel
- Access to state-of-the-art facilities with advanced methods of treatment
- Visa information
- Legal regulations of medical tourism destinations
- Treatment options
- Healthcare education
In the mid-2000s, medical guidelines were set by the American Medical Association (AMA) to ensure quality care, follow-up, and information about patients about their rights, legal recourse, and risks.
Joint Commission International (JCI) provided hospital accreditation for the safety and results of foreign hospitals and treatment centers.
Many medical tourism companies only work with AMA and JCI accredited facilities.
With the popularity of medical tourism, international governments have invested large sums of money to improve their healthcare facilities, urban infrastructures, airports, and tourism attractions.
With the convenience of travel and luxurious resorts, international cuisine, and endless activities to enjoy, it’s no wonder why medical tourism is an appealing option for those who need quality treatment at fraction of the cost.